Question: What is “Rich Matzah” and is one permitted to eat it on Pesach?
Answer: First, let us explain what “Rich Matzah” is. Maran HaShulchan Aruch (Chapter 462) writes that fruit juice (such as the juice squeezed out of oranges or wine) without any water mixed into it cannot make flour Chametz at all and one may eat Matzah on Pesach that was made from flour mixed with fruit juice or wine which was left even for a long while without being baked; one may use such flour and anything it is used to make on Pesach, for fruit juice alone cannot cause wheat to leaven. However, one cannot use such Matzah to fulfill the Mitzvah of eating Matzah on the first night of Pesach (and on the second night as well outside of Israel), for this is considered “Rich Matzah” while the Torah requires us to eat “bread of poverty/affliction.” Indeed, the custom of Sephardic Jewry has always been to act leniently based on the ruling of Maran HaShulchan Aruch and to consume “Rich Matzah” during the holiday of Pesach.
However, the Ashkenazim customarily abstain from eating such Matzah on Pesach, for several Rishonim as well as the Rama (in his notation ibid.) rule that one should not eat “Rich Matzah” on Pesach.
The Custom of Maran Shlit”a when Serving as Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv
There were two bakery owners in Tel Aviv who wished to manufacture “Rich Matzah,” i.e. flour mixed only with fruit juice and no water at all, after koshering the machinery as prescribed by Halacha and under the supervision of a G-d-fearing Torah scholar. The rabbi of the city, Hagaon Harav Isser Yehuda Unterman zt”l did notwant to permit them to do so as he was concerned with the ruling of the Rama who writes that “in our countries, we customarily do not knead flour with fruit juice and this custom should not be altered unless it is necessary for an ill or elderly person who need it.” After Harav Unterman zt”lwas appointed as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef Shlit”a was appointed as Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv. In the year 5730 (1970), Maran Shlit”a changed the accepted protocol and began issuing Kashrut certificates to companies who agreed to be under the rabbi’s supervision and all of his other halachic standards and requirements. He did this because there was a large population of Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews living in Tel Aviv who, for many generations, were customarily lenient regarding this matter in accordance with the ruling of Maran HaShulchan Aruch; thus, for their sake, surely it is incumbent upon the city’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi to provide them with Kashrut services for items including those which may not be kosher for the Ashkenazim.
Vendors must Notify Customers that the Kashrut of “Rich Matzah” is not Undisputed
However, vendors who sell such cakes or cookies on Pesach must place a notice in a conspicuous location that these baked goods are made from flour (which is Kosher for Pesach, as the regular flour that we use is actual Chametz) mixed with fruit juice and the Ashkenazi custom is to abstain from eating them on Pesach besides for ill or elderly individuals or children who have not yet reached the age of Mitzvot.
The Controversy Surrounding “Rich Matzah”
In the year 5760 (2000), the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel at the time, Hagaon Harav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron claimed that since chemical agents were mixed into the dough of “Rich Matzah” in order to cause it to rise, this is similar to yeast made out of wine which the Poskim (Tosafot in Pesachim 28b) write causes the dough to become Chametz and is not like fruit juice.
However, Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef Shlit”a dismissed this opinion and claimed that there was no similarity between yeast made from wine and chemical agents used to make the dough rise, for two experts in this field explained to him that in reality, this chemical agent does not cause the dough to rise at all; rather, it is merely like causing it to swell as a result of external suction (like bubbling) as opposed to the leavening which the Torah prohibited which involves grain flour coming in contact with water and staying there for a prescribed amount of time which causes the internal composition of the flour to begin leavening. However, chemical agents do not change anything about the internal composition of the dough and only appears so as a result of gasses being released in the dough.
Additionally, Maran Shlit”a requested that Hagaon Harav Shlomo Moshe Amar Shlit”a (who was later appointed as Chief Rabbi of Israel in the year 5762) to look into this matter. The latter did so and then wrote a lengthy response completely permitting consumption of such “Rich Matzah” on Pesach.
Thus, halachically speaking, Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews may purchase “Rich Matzah” produced under the supervision of a responsible Kashrut organization and eat it on Pesach. Ashkenazim may be lenient in this regard as well for their young children and the like.
The Reason Why Badatz Kashrut Agencies do not Kosher Certify “Rich Matzah”
Nevertheless, besides for the laws of “Rich Matzah,” there are other concerns regarding baked goods all year long and especially regarding the holiday of Pesach. Thus, it is especially proper to act stringently and not to purchase food items for Pesach unless the package bears the seal of a well-known Kashrut agency.
Unfortunately, there have not been any factories which produce “Rich Matzah” which have been able to meet the standards of such well-respected Kashrut agencies until this point. It is for this reason that the Badatz Bet Yosef Kashrut agency (under the presidency of Maran Harav Ovadia Yosef Shlit”a) has not kosher certified any “Rich Matzah.” (Among other standards of the Badatz Bet Yosef is that they do not allow producing baked goods for Pesach use in a plant where Chametz is produced during the rest of the year, only in a plant designated for Pesach products. This is for certain understood reasons.) There is indeed room for one to be cautious regarding such matters. Indeed, the custom of those who are especially G-d-fearing is to abstain from purchasing items for Pesach use unless they are certified by a well-respected Kashrut agency.
Summary: According to the letter of the law, Sephardic and Middle Eastern Jews may consume “Rich Matzah” on Pesach. Even Ashkenazim may be lenient and feed such products to their young children. However, since the manufacturers of such “Rich Matzah” have not yet accepted the standards of Badatz Kashrut agencies, there is room for stringency by abstaining from eating such Matzot. One who is stringent shall indeed be blessed from above.